Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rafa Benitez: Title Is Priority For Liverpool FC

Rafael Benitez has made ending Liverpool’s championship drought his priority for the forthcoming campaign.

The Anfield outfit last won the title back in 1990 and finished last season in fourth place, 11 points adrift of champions Manchester United.

Since taking charge four years ago, Benitez has led Liverpool to glory in the European Cup and Uefa

Super Cup in 2005 and the FA Cup the following year.

The Anfield outfit were also beaten finalists in the League Cup and World Club Championship in 2005 and the European Cup two years later.

However, the Premier League has become the holy grail for Liverpool, particularly as United’s most recent triumph has moved the Old Trafford outfit to within one of their record 18 championships.

And Benitez, who hopes to bolster his squad numbers further in the coming days, has revealed realistically challenging for the title is now his team’s primary target.

“I’m confident this is our best squad we’ve had during my time here,” he said. “We were looking for players to improve our weaknesses. I think we have found some of them, hopefully we can find some in a few days or a few weeks.

“At a club like Liverpool you want to win every trophy. If you said to me to put them in an order of priority, I’d say the Premier League, then the Champions League, the FA Cup and the League Cup. We’ll try to win all of them.

“We have enough confidence. We are hopefully going to be better than last season. We must try to work as hard as before and get as close as possible. If we can challenge, then why can’t we do something more important?”

Liverpool’s best league finish under Benitez came in 2006 when they ended the campaign nine points adrift of champions Chelsea in third place.

The manager has already started reshuffling his squad, with Philipp Degen and Andrea Dossena bolstering the full-back berths while John Arne Riise has joined Roma and Peter Crouch is poised to complete a move to Portsmouth.

“Everyone agreed that we needed to improve in the wide areas,” added Benitez. “We are looking for wingers and we’ve brought in two offensive full-backs in Degen and Dossena, who can go forward and give different options to the strikers.

“We are working really hard and are close to finishing some deals. We are hoping to progress with some big names and players who can improve us in the future.”

Liverpool are seeking a swift conclusion to the Gareth Barry transfer saga, although Xabi Alonso’s future is in limbo with the Serie A side considering their interest in the Spanish international.

Benitez is also tracking Robbie Keane and Valencia winger David Silva.

Juve Pull Out Of Alonso Deal

Juventus have reportedly pulled the plug on their pursuit of Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso, a decision which could have vast repercussions for both clubs’ transfer plans.

The Sun claims Juve have scrapped their plans to bring Alonso to Turin, despite the move appearing all but done after several weeks of negotiations.

Prior to EURO 2008, it seemed only a matter of putting to pen to paper but closing talks were put off during the tournament and have failed to pick up where they left off.

It is believed the Reds are now refusing to budge from their original ₤16million asking price, a figure the Old Lady simply will not – or cannot – meet.

Hence, the Bianconeri have turned to alternative targets such as Sevilla’s Christian Poulsen and Internazionale’s Dejan Stankovic – the latter of whose proposed move has met with angry protests from the Juve faithful.

But the situation at Anfield is even more interesting, as Alonso’s non-departure could effectively scupper Rafa Benitez’s hopes of landing Aston Villa wantaway Gareth Barry.

It is understood Benitez was to use the cash from the Basque playmaker’s transfer to fund the Barry deal, as Villa are demanding ₤18million for their skipper. The Merseyside giants have repeatedly denied that this was the case, but that stance will most certainly be tested now.

The timing of these happenings also leaves Barry in a particularly unpleasant situation, as the England midfielder effectively severed ties with Villa recently when he publicly declared his desire to join Liverpool.

As Villa have already secured a replacement in Steve Sidwell, the 27-year-old could be out in the cold if Benitez decides to drop the deal and focus on attacking reinforcements instead.

Rafa Still Chasing Silva

Liverpool are ready to step up their interest in Valencia winger David Silva, according to reports.

The Sun claims that the Merseyside giants are aiming to tie up a deal for around ₤16million as they seek to increase their flair options this summer.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez announced yesterday that he is keeping a very close eye on David Villa, the Valencia striker who scored four-goals at EURO 2008 last month to help Spain to their first major title in over four decades.

Benitez’s revelation sent up warning signals all across Europe, as many believed the wily Spaniard may have been using Villa – an obvious target, given his link with Fernando Torres for La Furia Roja – as a smokescreen for a more secretive deal.

And in Silva, who also featured prominently in Austria and Switzerland, he has a player who will cost half the price – in both wage and transfer fee – of his Mestalla team-mate and would bring some much-needed versatility to Liverpool’s attack.

Although usually classed as a winger, the 22-year-old is an elusive playmaker who can works all across the park and in between the lines, making him a perfect candidate to slot into either wide role in the Reds’ 4-2-3-1 shape.

Los Che may not necessarily be amicable sellers but their current financial state means they must offload either Villa or Silva, their two most bankable stars, with whom Barcelona have also been linked.

Villa Frustrate Liverpool Over Gareth Barry

Gareth Barry is facing up to the prospect of another weekend in limbo as Liverpool and Aston Villa continue to haggle over the finer points of his proposed move to Anfield.

Despite a busy day of transfer activity at both clubs yesterday, Barry remained in the West Midlands after Villa wrote to Liverpool outlining their demands to agree to the sale of the England international. Having already rejected bids of up to £15 million for Barry, the letter is understood to ask for £17 million, to be paid in full in the next 12 months, plus defender Steve Finnan.

Yet negotiations remain deadlocked as Liverpool rate Finnan at £2 million while Villa, who were last night in talks with Chelsea's £5 million-rated Steve Sidwell, a likely replacement for Barry, believe the full-back is only worth half of that figure as he enters the final year of his contract.

Rafael Benitez remains optimistic his main summer target - fined and banned from Villa's training ground for criticising manager Martin O'Neill - will sign but the delay in his arrival is a cause of frustration for the Liverpool manager as he prepares for his squad's departure for their Swiss training camp on Sunday.

With Peter Crouch due to complete an £11 million move to Portsmouth in the next 24 hours, Liverpool's money men could easily bow to all of Villa's demands but they insist that the second city club must meet their valuation of Finnan.

While Barry's arrival remains on ice, Liverpool will today officially unveil defenders Andrea Dossena, an £8 million acquisition from Udinese, and Swiss international Philipp Degen, signed on a free from Borussia Dortmund. Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri has undergone a medical and should complete his move from Palmeiras within days while Benitez has spoken of his admiration for Valencia's David Villa, who scored four times during Spain's triumphant Euro 2008 campaign.

"He is on our list but maybe it will be difficult, said Benitez, who fears he may be without Ryan Babel for the start of the season. Fit after missing Euro 2008 with an ankle injury, Babel could be selected by Holland for the Olympics.

Liverpool Fury At Losing Ryan Babel

Rafael Benitez is set to lose a third first-team squad member for the start of the new season after it emerged that Ryan Babel is almost certain to compete at the Olympics.

The Holland international has worked hard throughout the summer to overcome an ankle injury that ruled him out of Euro 2008 at the last moment.

Babel has now returned to full training with Liverpool at Melwood, and the Dutch are expected to name him in their squad for the Beijing Olympics.

Benitez said: “Obviously, we are really pleased that Ryan is coming back to training because he is an important player for us and he has worked hard to recover from the injury he suffered with Holland. But we are really worried because after getting him fit it is likely that we could lose him again if he is selected for the Olympics. This is a big problem – we prepare him, then he goes away with the national team.”

Benitez has already lost Lucas to the Brazil squad and fellow midfielder Javier Mascherano as an over-age player with Argentina, who are also likely to call up left-back Emiliano Insua after Real Madrid put a block on Gabriel Heinze’s participation.

Lee Delighted With Reds Role

Former Bolton boss Sammy Lee has declared he is delighted to be back in football since returning to Liverpool in the role of assistant manager.

Lee said: "I hated it. Since leaving school that was the longest time I had out of football.

"When you are in the game, any time you spend out of it is not a happy time. I just found it incredibly frustrating.

"I was able to go and watch matches, but I wasn't the best around the house and you tend to become a pain to the people closest to you.

"The new season can't come quick enough for me."

Lee also feels his tenure as Bolton manager in 2007 will help him with his coaching future.

He added: "My time at Bolton will certainly help me to become a better coach.

"I was very proud and honoured to be given the job and it was only heavily outweighed by the sense of disappointment I had of it not going well.

"Yes, I would have liked longer - you always do - but the facts are I got five points from nine games. I understand why I lost my job. But the Bolton fans were superb to me, my family and the players while I was there.

"I'm still fairly young and the short experience hasn't diminished my ambitions for management.

"But I am focused entirely on Liverpool now and I want to be a part of the success here."